Monday, 27 February 2012

Hey Blondie

How this is a regular Saturday afternoon for me  I don't know:

But this is my new life so I'm going with it. Could be harder things to get used to. I continue to be amazed at the magical wonders this country has to offer. Case in point:

These are all from our hike, or tramp as they say here, over the weekend. We went to Bethell's Beach and explored the Te Henga Walkway and the Lake Wainamu Scenic Reserve. Incredibly, all this is less then an hour from our house. Good thing all this stuff is free because I'm still in shock most of the time over how expensive it is here. Exhibit A:

I bought this exact sunscreen at Target before we left for $7.99. Oh Target, how I miss thee, let me count the ways...As you can see it is $22.99 at my local store and that is on sale! And yes I've already taken into consideration the exchange rate, it is still more then double then in the States. Other examples of absurd prices: $5.00 for a greeting card, and it didn't even sing or dance, $1.79 for one bell pepper (called capsicum in NZ) at the "cheaper" grocery store, and the list goes on. But a girl's gotta eat and protect her ageing skin so the show goes on, good thing the backdrop is so beautiful.

Since this is a blog about life in New Zealand, I'll give you a little flavor of Kiwi speak that came in the form of a recent text message I received: "Hey Katie! How are you?? Was thinking a girls road trip to my family bach in Whangamata could be a hot option for us. Let me know if you're keen and I'll check with Mum to see if the bach is free."

How cute is that? Probably not very special if you're from here but if you're not, like me, then it sounds pretty neat.  Perhaps I'll even bring some of my newest baked goods. I didn't go blonde but my brownies did:

For the recipe and many other delicious items, check out Once Upon a Chef( I am pretty much making my way through her entire recipe index. Yum!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Three's Company

Well this week, while on that trail, I got to meet the people that leave the bowl of water out next to their house for all the dogs to use. Yep. Pretty sweet. It really is nice, though, because I'm not even sure if they have a dog, they just leave water out for everyone else's.

Thurston enjoying his water break

I don't know about you but that's the kind of person I want to be. Truly, just doing something for the greater good. I mean who doesn't love the vegetarian who is cool with going to the burger joint or the friend who's down to go to the gypsy punk band even though they normally listen to Clay Aiken. I aspire to be more like the "may no dog go thirsty on my watch" kind of person and less like the idiot I was say on Wednesday at the video store.

Let me set the scene for you. It's pouring rain. I've found only one job worth applying for in the entire time I've been here. I'm fantasizing about being in business casual providing therapy to all my old clients. I am feeling kind of homesick. I'm envisioning the adorable faces of my niece and nephews and dinner out with people who have known me longer then two months. So I do the best thing I can think of ( I am a professional remember) and take my pajama party on the road to the local video store. It's movie marathon time.

I start to look around, gathering enough movies for an all day party for one, and ask the woman behind the counter if the half off Tuesday deal is good on new releases. She says yes, so I load up on new movies, old movies, and TV series. Adam was going to his first ever Cricket game that night and getting to sit in fancy box seats so I was going to have a lot of time to fill. I get to the counter, excited about what a bargain I am going to get, and the woman says, you do know today is not Tuesday?

No, no I didn't know that. Can't you see I'm unemployed and haven't showered today, I can't be expected to know what day of the week it is. I refrain from saying that and instead start choosing what movies I am going to put back, weighing in when the Gossip Girl Season 3 I've put on hold will be in, and how that might factor in to my movie watching schedule. Amazingly, she says she will give me 3 movies for $7 which is awesome. I have never been offered a deal before at a video store and I love getting a good one.

Usually, I only get that kind of special treatment after something has gone wrong and I have to use my go to customer service line of " I want to be able to say good things about Bob's Big Boy but at this point I can't. What can we do to change that?" Fill in your business of choice. Anyway, I must have been shocked by my good fortune, or the coffee hadn't kicked in yet, because on my way out I muttered an audible, "excuse me" to the sliding doors blocking my way. Needless to say, I refrained from any other human contact that day.

Besides, I had gotten so much of it at my improv class earlier in the week. It was session two and we were continuing with our teamwork theme. The idea being that you have to be able to have a sense of cohesion and trust with the people you are performing on stage with in order to be successful. Improv (and life I should add!) is all about taking risk and you are more likely to take risk when you feel safe and comfortable with someone.

We played a variety of games to facilitate this process, one of which was especially difficult. The task was to perform a sketch with your group and exit the room at the same time and for the same reason but without talking. It's kind of hard to explain but I'll use the one very successful group as an example. Just so you know this group did not involve me but did include an Asian Punky Brewster type with cleavage.

This is how it worked: Three people sit in a row facing the rest of the class. One person, say starts taping their toes and the other two people start taping theirs. It's all about making offerings and your partners accepting or rejecting them, no matter which way it goes, you all have to get in sync. After a while someone starts rubbing their stomach and looking around, then the other two make similar movements until after it builds up and all three of them are doubling over in discomfort, and they all get up and run out.

Remember there was no talking this entire time and no plan in place. They then had to come back and say what they understood to be the reason  that they left. It was clear to the audience that they were all facing a dire bathroom situation or as one of the performers stated "we were busting for the loo." When it was my group's turn we were able to get our body movements in sync but other then that we had no idea what we were building up to or what our reason for leaving would be. Had we actually been on stage we would have done what they call in Hollywood, bombed. Good thing this is just a class.

I will say, though, bombing has never been so fun.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Imagine breathtaking vistas, sparkling water, and picture perfect trees. Or just look at this:

Hawke's Bay

Now imagine hopping on a plane, getting there in 45 minutes and not having to go through security. When did Katie acquire a private jet you might be wondering? Well I didn't, I just stumbled upon a little something called flying domestic in NZ. We saw some amazing stuff this past weekend in Napier, but the one thing I can't get over is air travel in this country. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we walked into the airport ten minutes before our flight, printed our boarding passes, and walked onto the plane. I'll wait while you let that sink in. I know. Really hard to comprehend. I couldn't believe it myself. I gotta say it was nothing short of awesome. I was able to keep thoughts of 6oz liquids and live animals at bay but  the occasional "this would be an amazing opportunity for a terrorist" did creep up now and again. However, my positive thinking prevailed and we were there before I knew it.

Hawke's Bay is spectacular. Adam had some business to attend to in the area and since it looks like the above picture I figured I should probably go too. We ended up being there during the busiest time of the year, as it was the annual Art Deco Festival. The town of Napier prides itself on being the Art Deco capital of the world. So while Adam was at work on Friday, I booked myself on a guided tour to learn all about the decorative art style of the 1920s and 30s. The town was crawling with people dressed up like this:

There was an entire parade full of old cars that looked like this:

And one of my favorite parts was the airshow where the planes were doing things like this:

Mostly all of the festivities just made me want to read the Great Gatsby, be in a cute flapper dress doing the Charleston, and carrying one of those long cigarette holders. I mean we all know smoking is awful for you but why do those holders have to be so alluring...

We ended our weekend with a trip to New Zealand's oldest farmers market, some wine tasting, and a big lunch at Craggy Range Winery:

This was the view from our table:


Wow is right. Until next time Hawke's Bay.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Whiz Bang Pop

Cupid's arrow can show up in the most unusual of places. This year it came in the form of homemade chicken fingers. I told Adam he might fall in love with me all over again after he saw, or more importantly, tasted what I made him for Valentine's Day. I think I was right:

Our post chicken finger walk in the rain

When you have no job or children to take care of, you too can spend all day preparing a meal completely from scratch and be a Domestic Goddess like me. I will say, as far as the domestic goddess stuff goes, that it does help that I like to cook. I also knew he would appreciate it, because it involves chicken, and he's good like that. One thing about Adam is that he is crazy for the bird. I'm pretty convinced he lived on chicken alone until he met me. He now lives on chicken and a few other things. So when I came across this particular recipe, a Valentine's Day gift was born:

The cast: Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders (soaked overnight in buttermilk and spices), Arugula Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing, Crash Hot Potatos, Whole Wheat Biscuits (my first attempt, will file under "good intentions"), and Oreo Truffles for dessert. Did I mention I made everything from scratch? I heard calories don't count on holidays. I am banking on this being true. I think the same goes for care packages:

Thanks to Adam's family I can fulfil my baking destiny while in New Zealand. Note the 72oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Watch out Betty Crocker there's a new game in town.

Speaking of games, we sure did play a lot at my first improv class on Monday. Whiz, Bang, Pop can best be described as an energy and movement exercise. Another was a name game of sorts where we stood in a circle and had to recall peoples names. The kicker being, if you messed up you had to scream at the top of your lungs and run to the other circle, jumping into their name game. I realize that for many of you a game like this is your worst nightmare, as is this class in general. And I get it.

Despite being blessed with copious amounts of confidence, allowing me to walk into a situation like this with ease, it can even make me uncomfortable. Mostly I don't understand why theater people have to be people-ish. There was a guy who couldn't just say his name during introductions he had to try to be funny. There was the girls who had to make it known that she had done improv before. Ok I get it, you were big in Beijing.

What was interesting, though, was why people were taking the class. One man said in broken English, that he wanted to learn to worry less about what people thought of him and be more in the moment. Another woman said she hoped to use improv with her kids as a parenting tool, and find the humor in her teenage sons. There were actors wanting to refresh their skills, old ladies looking for laughs, and people just trying to get away from their norms. To top it off, there was a woman there with a service dog, but as she explained it she wasn't impaired she was just taking care of the dog until it could loose some weight and actually be of service. She shared  how they were both on a diet and they weighed in together every week, but unfortunately the dog was making more progress then she was. Who wants a chicken finger? Anyone?

Well now you have a sense of what I'm dealing with. I will be sure to keep you posted on all things improv from here on out.

This weekend we are off to Napier/Hastings/Hawkes Bay where I will be taking my first domestic flight in NZ. Wine tasting and art deco festivities here we come!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fa La La

Karangahake Gorge. It's where we went this weekend but why does everything in this country have to be so hard to pronounce? The names don't really roll off the tounge now do they. So many of the words are Maori, which is New Zealand's native people and language. Perhaps you saw the movie Whale Rider, a beautiful film about a young Maori girl. Anyway, here in New Zealand the letters Wh are pronounced F, obvious I know. For example the town Whangerei would be pronounced, Fawn-ga-ray. The ski resort Whakapapa would be pronounced... well I'll let you sound that one out on your own.

The Gorge was beautifiul. It's an old gold mine and full of neat bridges and tunnels:

 After our hike, we stumbled across the Paeroa Highland Games Festival. After maxing out our capacity to listen to the bagpipes we moved on to the real action. Sidebar - I have realized that I think bagpipes are really awesome for the first minute and a half of hearing them and then they quickly turn to nails on a chalkboard for me. What did not get old, however, was this:

The Axeman's Chopping Competition. We got to see men chop their hearts out and compete to be the first to get through their piece of wood. It was highly entertaining.

Other parts of the weekend include a dinner out with the Canadians and more barefoot sightings:

I did check out a church on Sunday and was the youngest person there by about, say 25 years. I sat patiently when the pastor was going through announcements and said he wanted to wish a Happy 75th Birthday to one of the members. I thought oh that's nice and then had to control my laughter as the organ started up with music and the whole congregation broke into "Happy Birthday to you.... " It was definitely a first.

Stay tuned for my next post about my first improv class and our first Kiwi Valentines Day!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Art of War

I pass these swings every day and it always gives me an extra skip in my step. It's a little shot of joy, kind of like a mini nature version of Ellen or the first season of Glee. What's not to love about a swing set  next to the ocean. Good thing it's like this outside because inside it is all about this:

Meet ROD. That stands for Racket. Of. Death. as Adam so aptly named it. New Zealand fun fact #724 - there are no screens in this country. This wouldn't be that big of a deal except that there isn't really air conditioning either.  This means that when it is hot outside, like today, or for an entire season, we will call it summer, that it is nice to have the doors open to get a cool breeze. Along with fresh breezes come the not so fresh flies. We are so accustomed to screens in the States that it is hard to imagine but they just don't exist here. Everyone keeps their doors open and flies are a part of the deal. I am willing to accept the muffins and 4 weeks, plus 11 National Holidays, vacation time part of the culture, but I am having a hard time getting use to the flies.

This is why we got ROD. At first we tried this Raid thing that basically looks like an air freshener, but shoots mists of chemicals strong enough to kill insects but not humans or pets into the air? Hmmm. After getting severe headaches and probably killing any chance at procreation, we got rid of it. ROD is probably not going to be featured in any PETA commercials anytime soon, as it is basically a dwarf sized tennis racket that electrocutes flies upon contact. It sounds really bad and  I guess it is for the flies but the only buzz I want to catch is from some of the delicious NZ wine.

Alright enough about flies though, let's move on the next topic. There is no real seague into this one. I saw boobs on the news. They were highlighting a crazy festival called Sevens that I think is Mardi Gras meets a Rugby tournament. This was the regular nightly news and they were covering the festivities. I can only imagine the letters to the editor in the Knoxville News Sentinel if they allowed topless women to be showed  on the news.

Other highlights from the week include a self imposed "make a fabulous dinner with only ingredients you have on hand" kitchen challenge and a trip to the Auckland Art Gallery. The gallery is a really stunning space and definitely worth seeing. I went to see a free lunchtime dance performance but stayed for the wonderful art and cafe.

Speaking of the arts, I have signed up for an improv class. It's something I have wanted to do for years and think will be really fun. I can't think of a better place to make a fool of myself then in a new country where I know no one and will probably be the only person wearing shoes. I have no desire to actually do anything with it but will be a good creative outlet for me. It's like people going to law school with no desire to practice, but I won't be in improv debt.

As far as actual job, I am still networking and just met with a woman from Boston, who is also in the mental health field. I keep hearing how, regardless of the profession, Kiwis are about ten years behind. She told me about going to a meeting of the professional counseling board here and described to me what might as well have been a casting call for the 1993 hit movie Hocus Pocus. Thankfully, she steered me down a different path that will hopefully be a better fit for me professionally.

So until I find that one, I will continue planning trips that will be a perfect fit. Next up, a trip to Napier for the Art Deco Festival followed by my maiden voyage to the South Island in March. We are so excited about our Milford Track adventure which is a 5 day, 4 night, hiking trip through Fiordland National Park.

Here is little peak of what's to come:

Monday, 6 February 2012

United Colors of Auckland

Auckland is a very international city, not in a cosmopolitan way, just in a people from all over the world live here kind of way. I naively thought before coming to New Zealand it would be less Benetton and more Gap. I was focusing on the whole small island in the middle of the ocean, in a tiny corner of the world, too hard to get to thing, but how wrong I was. Kiwis are some of the most well travelled people in the world and New Zealand is one of the most desired destinations. Throw on top of that, some really bad conditions in other countries and people are scrambling to get to this little piece of paradise.

I have met more people from around the globe in two months here then in two years in Atlanta. For example, we recently had one of Adam's colleagues over who emigrated with his family from Zimbabwe. Forget reality TV try this on for size - his dog was killed because a cobra bit it in their backyard and by the time he left his country, inflation was so awful that a cup of coffee cost more then he had bought his house for. He shared how hard it was to get out and the things he missed most, like the first rain of the season over the African plains. No matter how great it is here, missing home is a common theme among expats, immigrants, and wayward travelers. He misses the rain, I miss Chick-Fil-A.

To keep things international, we went to the Chinese Lantern Festival in Albert Park over the weekend. We brought some wine and snacks, which are actually called nibbles here, but I can never say it with a straight face, so to keep my dignity in tact, I'll stick to snacks. We went with our Canadian friends and got to see dancing dragons and lovely lanterns hanging in big, beautiful trees. It was fun. See here is proof:

Me having fun.
Other parts of the weekend include an all girls dinner party where I was sent home with homemade nutella (thanks Erin and Danae!) and doing the walk from Milford Beach to Takapuna. It said it was going to take 2 hours, but it took us 20 minutes. And that was without our Go Go Gadget Skates. Regardless, it did not derail me from our planned coffee and muffin stop. Muffins are as common here as hot cheetos in Oakland or ganja goo balls at a Phish show. Naturally, I have made this a part of my new Kiwi lifestyle:

To top the weekend off, we went to a Super Bowl Party on Monday. Yes, you read that correctly. It was yet again, another holiday here so Adam had the day off. Last Monday was Auckland Anniversary Day, I mean why shouldn't every city have it's own celebration?! This Monday was Waitangi Day or as we have re-named it Super Bowl Monday. If you are curious what a Super Bowl party in New Zealand is like well then let me help you out: 

No that is not Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy

This was during the game people. But what can you expect in a country where Rugby and Cricket rule? Football is not so popular here, but I soaked up every American minute of it. After Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton got done singing, I needed a kleenex. And after the game was over, Adam and I planted ourselves in front of the computer to watch every Super Bowl commercial we could get our hands on. God bless the USA.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Day In The Life

I'll start by saying that if you are prone to jealousy or not being happy for someone when they strike opportunity gold, well then turn back now. Otherwise read on with your bad self. It's overcast and drizzly today, which seems like a good time to look back on sunnier times in the week. People often want to know what my new life is like and while telling them is good, it just doesn't always do it justice. So I figure I will show you what has become one of the most regular parts of my day:

This is Possum's Ladder. It is a trail a couple minutes from our house. I like to start and end my day by doing this walk. Our dog, Thurston, also likes this ritual. I am still amazed at how beautiful it is and I always stop to look down and take in the view. The trail then leads down an awesome staircase to the beach:

At any point in the day you can find, dogs, families, gangly teens, kayakers, skim boarders, and sailing classes in action. I like it most in the morning and right before the sun sets.

Other very regular parts of my week are grocery shopping and coffee stops. Fascinating I know. However, this week, I went to meet a friend and her 5 year-old-daughter at a cafe for my morning fix. My friend ordered a Fluffy for her daughter. What on earth is that I wondered? What I learned is that since coffee and cafe culture are so big here, they have a kids drink that is served in an espresso cup that is basically just frothed milk with some chocolate sprinkled on top. It was served with a marshmallow. How cute is that?! Next time I go out, Fluffies for everyone!

I have had the pleasure of hanging out with this lovely family a few times, as Adam works closely with the Man of the House. In fact the last time I was with them, the 5-year-old, made my day by tapping me on the shoulder just to tell me I was pretty. Ahhh something so pure about how the child sees the world isn't there? Later the same child told me at the dinner table, " Katie I can see the cracks in your face when you laugh," like I said the purity of how a child sees the world...

Lest we forgot about the aforementioned grocery shopping. This week I was gathering ingredients to make this delicious roasted potato dish I had recently been served at a BBQ. One of the items I needed was sun dried tomatoes. I went to the deli counter and ordered 100 g of them. I'll interrupt this story by admitting how awful I am at using the metric system, but until this moment I didn't know how bad. The woman behind the counter looked at me like I was either the dumbest or most high maintenance person or even worse - a combination of the two.  From her look, I knew I had asked for something that made no sense. Apparently I had just ordered less then half of this:

Have a great weekend! xoxo Not Gosip Girl but I'll be watching it!